As most people reading this blog know, I live in a rural community which means wanting to support local mom and pop booksellers is a bit of a hard luck story. In a county of under 20,000 we have two book stores on pretty much opposite ends of the county. I live in the middle. One of the bookstores isn’t bad–they have the usual gentrification of non-book items to be sold in order to survive as a bookseller in a non-reading world, but they also stock things that pertain to the area be it maps, local history etc. They’ve somehow managed to look distinctive in an indistinctive world.
But I can’t just walk in and pick up a book on a small press. I wanted to get the new Lidia Yuknavitch Small Backs of Children; I wanted to get my daughter Gabo, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. I wanted to get my son a copy of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta since he’s now old enough and curious enough to read it. A bookstore, a real one, could have taken at least 60 bucks from me yesterday.
The other book store in the county…I cant even…I’m not sure even what they sell anymore but I can’t even find a classic in there. We couldn’t even get a copy of the Listen to Your Mother Show book in there and we had a Listen to Your Mother Show reading literally one block over and that book was on G.P. Putnam Son’s. I couldn’t get Roxane Gay and she’s like ALL OVER THE PLACE.
But I recognize that hey, this isn’t an overly literate county we are a hub for the State of Jefferson and Tea Baggers and people who think the United Nations is spying on them. So I get it. In order for these two bookstores to stay alive, they can’t really sell books. What does Joan Didion say in “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream?” This is a place you can’t buy a book but you can dial a prayer. I’m not sure we can even do that here.
As with most Plumas County folk, if I can’t find something and I don’t want to pay shipping or bow down to the gods of Amazon, I save up purchases and head south to Chico, CA or east to Reno, NV. My mom had a minor surgery and doc appointment in Chico so we went there overnight to make both and I went searching for books while my mom rested.
In a used book store in downtown Chico I browsed and did what I love to do — find an old book I didn’t even know existed. My pregnancies/birth/breastfeeding years were 2002-2006. I know of nothing that happened on the planet in that four year block, but apparently Mike Davis (City of Quartz) put out a collection of essays called Dead Cities and now I have a bro-darted first edition hardback copy of it for eight bucks. Thank you, The Bookstore, in downtown Chico!
But that didn’t quite satisfy what I’d been hoping for. The only other bookstore I could find in Chico was…. Barnes & Nobles. When the chirpy sales clerk guy saw me wandering aimlessly looking for non-genred fiction then giving up and looking for a chicano section he asked me if I was finding everything okay.
No, Barnes & Nobles in Chico, I am not finding everything okay.
What was I looking for? He asked.
Books I said. Real fucking books.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. If I want to buy a sushi-making or bonsai trimming kit in a recyclable box or buy toys based on Doctor Who or an overpriced blank book, hey, I’ll drive straight to Barnes & Nobles.
But not for real books.
I’m on the Internet every day. I know small presses. I go to readings. I read at readings. I read reviews. And I’m an American consumer. I want to walk into a bookstore and be able to actually buy a real book about real things.
I don’t want to read the novelization of a movie.
I don’t want to read a romance about sexy zombie vampires on another planet about to take over Earth.
I don’t want to read something written by a celebrity.
I don’t want a book for my coffeetable.
I don’t want to read another 100 books that are supposed to be universal but are really about some white man’s experience in NYC.
I want to walk into a bookstore and see interesting titles and feel like I want to buy five books but can only afford one and I have to make a decision.
I want to read staff recommendations from adults who’ve read something other than the Fault in Our Stars.
I want to see books written by women of color. Because there’s a ton of us and we are changing the literary landscape and if you tell me we have Lisa See and Amy Tan and Toni Morrison I will dropkick you into next year.
Fuck you, Barnes & Noble I want to read a real fucking book. And I wanted to buy one from you. I was willing. I mean, do you know what a 48 hour trip with my mother in one motel room is like? And I mean, I’m loving Mike Davis’ Dead Cities but sometimes I needed a break from the apocalypse and you offered me nothing.
What is the role of the bookstore? What is the role of the library? Don’t either of them feel the obligation to carry small presses? To carry well-reviewed books? To carry literature of contemporary Chicanas y Latinas? I mean, yes, you have that ONE book by Sandra Cisneros and that ONE book by Isabel Allende and that ONE book by Julia Alvarez but you know what? They’ve written more since and there’s a fucking ton of us who’ve been writing post 1980s. And yes, I know there’s Junot Diaz but he’d be the first to tell you to fuck off and carry some real fucking books.
In Plumas County my private collection of books is pretty much better than the public library’s collection. If my kids want a literary experience I have to send them to their rooms to their own bookshelves.
I know, I know. If I don’t like it? Leave. Those of us who like to read need to overcrowd the remaining cities that have bookstores. I need to go back to San Francisco and pay 4K a month for a studio apartment so I can be by a bookstore that sells actual books. I get it. It’s my fault for moving and having children.
There should be some middle ground, Middle California. Booksellers there are people in rural California that can read and write and would like to expose their children to relevant and exciting literature. We’d love to GIVE YOU MONEY. Fucking carry new books.
PS My daughter would like me to apologize for using the word fuck so much. The last two books she loved were the copies of Michelle Serros’ Honey Blonde Chica novels. She loved that she saw herself in the literature like no other YA she ever came across. I couldn’t find them anywhere. Had to order them from Amazon.